The book studies the question of the origin and early forms of development of religion. It covers the history of religious studies in the nineteenth century, discoveries in the field of the ancient history of mankind in comparison with the data of ethnography. The problem of emergence and development of the concept of the soul and spirits, which, according to the author, is associated not only with anthropomorphism, but also with the understanding of death, is considered.
The author describes the cult of ancestors and the emergence of funeral rites, totemic ideas, and ideas about the afterlife. Particular attention is paid to the deification of the elements of nature and the emergence of the cult of tribal gods. Considering the rituals and customs of primitive people and modern ‘wild tribes’, S., according to the previous educational tradition, coming from J. Toland, expresses the opinion that the original form of religion was the cult of ancestors.
On the basis of the cult of ancestors, according to S., a reverence for the forces of nature also arises in the form of naturalistic religions. However, in these religions, a person does not worship the forces of nature, as such: the Sun, the Moon, the Venus, the Mars, sea, river, wind, etc., in their natural form. The real center and object of naturalistic religions, as well as that one of primitive beliefs, remains the person himself, his activities, and his practice. In the fantastic forms of ‘naturalistic religions’, humans organized their production activities and demonstrated their growing work experience.
The book was written as a manual for teachers of Communist and Soviet schools, therefore, at the end of each section there were recommendations on additional reading, and each work in the list is appropriately assessed (criticized) by the author. The book was very popular and was reprinted many times.